While there may be more than 50 national parks in the States, Utah is undoubtedly home to five of the best. Zion. Bryce Canyon. Arches. Capitol Reef. Canyonlands. The five parks boast other-wordly landscapes and iconic views.
They each are easily accessible from the main highway, so if you are passing by there is no excuse for not visiting! Whether it is dramatic canyons, colorful rock formations, or open plains, there are plenty of reasons to visit Utah’s national parks that have collectively come to be known as the “Mighty Five”.
An ancient canyon carved by the Virgin River, and home to some of the most famous hiking trails in the country; Zion National Park is one of Utah’s top attractions. From nearby Springdale, it is clear that this is a hiking region. Join the wave of people taking the shuttle into the canyon, and choose from a range of great trails. From Angel’s Landing to the Narrows, the walks here have become quite famous, and for good reason.
HIGHLIGHT: Angel’s Landing offers the best view of Zion Canyon if you are willing to take the exhilarating clifftop walk to get there. Although it is an exhausting walk with a lot of uphill inclines, the views will be well worth it.
GETTING HERE: Zion is easily accessible from metropolitan centers such as Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. If approaching from the east, turn off Highway 89 at Carmel Junction and enjoy the scenic road into the canyon. Make sure to stop at Checkerboard Mesa along the way.
Bryce Canyon is not far away from Zion, and images of the park have become a recognizable symbol of Utah’s bizarre landscape. The strange rock formations called “Hoodoos” dot the canyon floor, making for an impressive sight. The Sunrise and Sunset viewpoints are two of the most popular and offer fantastic views of Bryce Canyon.
HIGHLIGHT: Follow the Queen’s Garden Trail, which joins the Navajo Loop. The walk will take you down through the canyon and give you a unique perspective on all the different rock formations. You can start the trail at Sunrise Point, and after an uphill trek, you will find yourself at Sunset Point. The two lookouts are joined by the Rim Trail, so a short walk will take you back to your starting point.
GETTING HERE: Highway 89 will take you to the entrance road, just follow signs for Bryce Canyon. Stop in at the park visitor center to get more information on the area.
It isn’t difficult to see why Arches is Utah’s most-visited national park. With so many impressive arches and rocky outcrops, the stream of traffic heading up the winding road into the park is understandable. Sights like Delicate Arch are among the most popular, so be prepared to contend with a lot of other people to get the perfect picture. Depending on how energetic you are feeling, there are three trails that take you to viewpoints of Delicate Arch.
HIGHLIGHT: The Windows Walk is a great trail that gets you up close to some of the massive arches. Turret Arch may not get the same attention as its counterparts, but it is an impressive one to stand beneath.
GETTING HERE: Moab is the obvious base for a visit to Arches National Park. From town, head north across the Colorado River and turn off onto Arches Scenic Drive.
It is the much larger neighbor of Arches, and when you get to Canyonlands it will be the scale of the park that strikes you. One of the easiest ways to get a birds-eye view of Canyonlands is to head to the Island in the Sky. There are plenty of different viewpoints of the seemingly endless canyons. You will barely be able to see the bottom of the jigsaw-like canyon from Grand View Point.
HIGHLIGHT: A must-see in Canyonlands is Mesa Arch. The unique shape and position of the arch even rival some of the more famous arches in the neighboring park.
GETTING HERE: You will find the entrance to Canyonlands north of Arches National Park along Highway 313. Allow plenty of time to see the park, as it does cover a wide area.
It is Utah’s most remote national park, and as a result does not get quite as many visitors. However, the unique colors of the sandstone rocks and the endless sky is worth making the detour. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as coyotes running across the plains. Stop in at Hickman Arch for a scenic walk through the rocks.
HIGHLIGHT: One of the highlights of Capitol Reef can be found just off the road past the Visitor Centre. Gifford Homestead is surrounded by orchards, historic buildings, and is home to horses and deer. The homestead is not far away from the beginning of Scenic Drive. Fall is a particularly beautiful time to visit.
GETTING HERE: If arriving from Moab, take the I-70 and exit onto State Route 24. When you reach Hanksville, follow signs for Capitol Reef National Park.